Transit planning should include land-use strategies
The City Council wants the administration to start looking at zoning and development along with a rail system.
INDICATIONS ARE that a rail transit system will be chosen as the key component for relieving Honolulu's traffic problems. If so, any changes in land-use rules need to be in place as routes, stations and other facilities are determined
The City Council is correct in seeking such guidelines from the Hannemann administration as officials move toward the likely recommendation for rail. However, Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz's threat to hold off on assessing a tax to pay for a system in the meantime is counterproductive.
A resolution approved this week by the Council's zoning committee recognizes the tremendous effect a rail system will have on land use. The resolution sensibly asks the administration to produce a plan that would govern the range of development that could take place in the neighborhoods and surrounding areas through which a rail line passes.
Other municipalities have assembled what's called transit-oriented development overlay districts as part of their transit designs. These plans provide a framework for projects built along transit corridors.
A Honolulu rail line will pass through areas with different zoning requirements, so an "overlay" of what will be allowed is necessary. Overlay models usually keep current zoning laws in place with the overlay defining new uses, which still will require permits.
Council Zoning Chairman Charles Djou, who proposed the resolution, notes that without a plan, development will be subject to land speculation since the value of property near stations will increase significantly. A piecemeal approach could provoke conflict among homeowners, businesses, large landowners and others whose holdings are affected. A comprehensive plan will ensure that all are treated fairly and know what to expect.
Meanwhile, a broader blueprint of objectives should be in the works for there are myriad issues that need to be reviewed. Among them are whether mixed uses -- blends of residential and commercial development -- will be permitted where none are allowed at present, and, if so, what combinations will be best to encourage transit riding.
Transit district plans in other cities address parking, public areas, entertainment venues, retail operations, civic centers, tourist facilities, sidewalks and architectural standards for nearby buildings, not to mention economic impact and diversity.
A rail line surely will shift the landscape of Honolulu. It can work to contain urban growth to already developed areas so that desirable rural and agricultural lands remain as green spaces. It can revitalize deteriorating neighborhoods, open opportunities for business growth and create affordable housing, in addition to changing the way people move around.
These issues -- pivotal to the success of rail transit -- should be integrated hand in hand with planning the nuts and bolts of a transit system. The process is time consuming and should being now.